The luxury Ramada Hotel in downtown Ballina will remain part of the town’s tourist accommodation mix after local councillors rejected a bid to turn two of its penthouses into permanent residences.
Planners had recommended conditional approval for the change of use of two of the lots of four units on the top floor to long-term residential but councillors voted 5–3 to refuse it.
The staff report said the plan did not comply with Ballina Shire Council’s development control plans or residential flats code in terms of lighting, car parking and fire escapes, as well as objectives of other plans in removing tourist accommodation from the available pool.
The upmarket units, staff said, accounted for a total of 1,600 visitor nights last year but considered the loss would have a minimal impact on the local economy
Staff said they feared it could also set a precedent for other unit owners wanting to do the same, which could jeopardise the hotel’s current use, but that overall it would add to the diversity and mixed development of the town centre.
A spokesman for the business that operates the hotel, Ballina Booking Service, told media this week that approval would set a precedent for other units and was the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ that would affect the town’s tourism industry.
Cr Sue Meehan said she was ‘shocked’ to see the plan was recommended for approval and it was ‘not Council’s job to address individuals’ financial issues’ and the unit owners had taken the risk of running the units as holiday letting.
Cr Meehan said the building was not designed for permanent accommodation but as a hotel.
‘This offers us the chance to be a destination; we have lots of top-end homes in the shire but not top-end accommodation. A change from tourism to residential is definitely not in the public interest,’ she said.
Cr Peter Moore said, ‘we should not hang our hats on two penthouses’ or the ‘dazzle dollars’ to base the shire’s tourism success on.
Cr Robyn Hordern said the loss of the prestige units would ‘greatly impact on the local tourism industry and the town does not need another residential complex on the riverfront,’ especially one that would create a ‘conflict cancer’.
Cr Hordern said that in 2010, Council voted against turning 94 of the hotel’s 115 units into permanent residential use and the Land and Environment Court upheld that, at a cost to council of $400,000, and she believed the court decision should ‘stand for the whole building’.
Cr Keith Johnson said the plan to turn the two large units into permanent accommodation met policy ‘sufficiently to warrant approval’ and would not create a precedent because they were the only ones of that size in that locality.
Crs Alan Brown, Moore and Johnson were in the minority by voting to approve the plan, while mayor Phil Silver and Cr Sharon Cadwallader abstained from the debate and voting because of non-pecuniary conflicts of interest.